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Second grade social studies: Communications and culture

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Late in the school year, second grade students begin a unit of social studies on communications. They look at various time periods, different cultures, and customs that make each segment of society unique. From a teacher’s perspective, it is interesting to see how we enlighten the next generation on events that shaped history from the 1800’s, all the way up to today. The reaction on students’ faces to ways in which we lived, not so long ago, cannot help but bring a sense of nostalgia to those who teach it – and we sometimes feel as if those days were only yesterday.

The unit begins in the students’ textbooks with black and white photographs of people in different settings in the 1800’s. The clothes they wore are reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln. One photo may show people sitting in a living room, talking and exchanging ideas. Another may show someone walking away from the general store, carrying the day’s groceries. Since refrigerators did not exist, people could only shop for their groceries for that day. We talk to our students about what they see in the photos, how people lived and the differences between then and now. We also discuss the difference between black and white photos and color photos, and how modes of photography have advanced over the years.

Next, we may see an illustration of the Wild West, and how people crossed the country in their journey to settle in new places and to find a better life. We see horses, covered wagons, and large groups of people making their way through the vast plains of America.

Jumping through time, we talk a little about different cultures and the customs that make them unique. We ask our students for the definition of each of these, and for examples. A wide range of answers is often given. These can range from exchanging presents at Christmas time to eating borsht (a cold beet soup) with a dollop of sour cream. Some students may discuss the plight of their great grandparents, as they left Europe to come to America in search of a better life. They discuss the journey they took as they left their homes in Europe and arrived at Ellis Island.

Another jump through time brings us to the 1970’s and 1980’s. We see color photographs of telephones with cords and compare them to the pictures of telephones we saw in the black and white photos in the 1800’s. We discuss how Alexander Graham Bell’s invention has progressed through time, and compare it to cell phones of today. That brings us to a whole new topic of discussion – technology! We discuss other ways we communicate, such as with iPads, iPhones, text messages, emails and video chat. Some students may even recall, with a slight amount of nudging, the old-fashioned letter. Tell your students that at one point in time, all of this current technology did not exist. The only way to get in touch with someone, if you didn’t want to call him or her, was to write a letter. Similarly, show them pictures of tape machines, video recorders, CD’s and DVD’s. Tell them that this was how people watched movies in the “old” days. You had to rent a movie from a store, watch it on tape, rewind it and return it to the store. What may seem like only yesterday to a teacher describes a time period that was well before any of their students were even born. Discussing these technological advances from even as recently as 20 years ago shows how we communicated at one point in time, and how we’ve progressed up to today.

An engaging and informative conversation about how people lived and what they encountered in their daily lives helps students to appreciate how they live. From food to phones, from clothes to cars, we see how each culture has progressed. Maybe, just maybe, the next great inventor may be sitting in your class right now, thinking of something that will be in the textbooks to enrich the lives of the students in the next generation and beyond.

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